Several hundred miles in a 2012 Chevrolet Volt brings an appreciation of its good roadholding, remarkably quiet cabin, and the simple but elegant graphics on its display monitors.
Behind the wheel or as a passenger, the low-mounted seats are comfortable, with leather available as an option. Daringly, Chevy has offered some remarkably unusual accent colors and graphic designs--you can get abstract patterns and matching seat piping in lime green if you like, which works far better than you might expect.
You can also get shiny white plastic for the console, evoking an Apple product, though we worry that it would date quickly over the far longer life of a car. There's also piano black, by now a cliche, and we prefer the quieter glossy charcoal option.
Quality is high, with no rattles or squeaks from our test cars. A handful of owners have reported glitches or freezing up in the graphic display software, and Chevy--just as other makers do with their infotainment systems--has offered minor software updates.
Your mother might not ever know she was driving a Volt from behind the wheel, except for the lack of engine noise and perhaps the futuristic humming tone as the car boots up and does its system checks.
But without the masking effect of engine and transmission noise, that silence poses a new challenge: Engineers have to work that much harder to make accessories like wipers seem quiet, and either reduce or insulate against wind noise, tire roar, and a host of other sounds. Chevy's done a good job at this, with no startlingly loud sounds at speed or under full-throttle acceleration. Usually, the loudest thing you hear is the low-rolling-resistance tires.
Only sometimes, under sustained high power demand, did the engine noise rise to a howl as it revved to the top of its power curve. Otherwise, the battery pack buffers the power demands from the electric drive motor, complementing the power provided by the engine-generator.